So, it’s no longer October, but I still have all these horror movies that I’m excited to watch. So I guess I’ll keep doing this whole “horror movie review” thing, maybe review some non-horror movies too, while I still have the urge.
Last night I watched Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.
It was incredible.
Here’s the official synopsis, from their website:
From breakthrough writer-director Jennifer Kent comes the creepy psychological horror movie THE BABADOOK… in the tradition of Polanski’s classic domestic horrors… a single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, who battles with her son’s night time fear of a shadowy monster. But soon, she discovers a sinister presence is lurking in the house.
And sure, it’s all of those things. But it’s a hell of a lot more than that– it’s the best metaphor for deep, dark clinical depression that I’ve ever seen on the silver screen.
I know that’s kind of a whopper of a statement. There are wonderful representations of clinical depression in all media. Kate Gompert in Infinite Jest, or DFW’s other powerful statements on it (including Good Old Neon and The Depressed Person). There are also, of course, wonderful movies dealing with clinical depression head-on: Ordinary People, The Hours, Melancholia. But I’ve always been partial to symbolism and metaphor, and this movie fucking nails it.
Essie Davis, who I absolutely adore as the title character in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, plays the main role in this movie, Amelia. Her son, Samuel, is played by a child actor that I’d never heard of before, and who does an incredible job portraying a rowdy, rambunctious, handful of a child.
The basic setup is simple. Amelia’s husband Oskar died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. She does her best as a single mother, working as a nurse. Samuel has more than his fair share of behavioral problems, which raise horrible issues with his school, as well as among his classmates, social peers, and other family members.
Samuel finds a book in the house called “MISTER BABADOOK,” featuring a terrifying top-hatted closet monster who terrorizes a young boy in his bed. By the time Amelia realizes this book is deeply disturbing and wildly inappropriate for a young child, it’s too late. The damage has been done, and Samuel is terrified of the Babadook. Amelia hides the book.
(The book design and implementation, by the way, is beautiful. Clearly handmade, hand-illustrated, and hand-lettered, it is a marvel of art and design. I had to fight back the impulse to include way too many gifs while writing this blog. Each new two-page spread is a wonder of pop-up and moveable parts. As a bibliophile, I was delighted by it– and I signed up on their website to be alerted if and when they make the book itself available for sale.)
When his behavior gets him in trouble at school (again), the head of academics sits Amelia down and says that they’ve decided to separate Samuel from his classmates and assign him a monitor to be at his side all the time. Amelia, already frustrated at Samuel’s alienation from his peers, decides to take him out of school and look for a new school.
Then everything slowly begins to unravel.
Samuel finds the book and is terrified anew. Amelia tears it up and throws it in the garbage.
Now, Samuel’s birthday is approaching, which is also the date of Oskar’s death. Amelia is dealing with overload from constant contact with her behaviorally problematic child, the sheer horror and depression of the fact that his birthday shares the same day as her life’s greatest tragedy, the financial pressure and stress from being unable to work because she needs to care for her child, Samuel’s overarching fear of the Babadook, and the oppressive loneliness she feels at being unable to really talk to anyone else.
Samuel doesn’t sleep. She doesn’t sleep.
It’s enough to take its toll on anyone.
She goes to see her doctor, who refers her to a psychiatrist. She begs him for sedatives to help Samuel sleep. He provides some for her, and they get their first good night’s sleep. The next morning the Babadook book reappears on their doorstep, carefully put back together, and it has new pages. New horrible, awful, distressing pages.
And then things get just much, much worse.
I really, really hate spoilers. I tend to avoid them at all costs, because I know that I can’t stop myself from reading them if I come upon them at the tail end of an article that I’m enjoying. This copy of The Babadook is a review copy, and so I especially don’t want to spoil it when it’s unavailable for most people that will read this blog. That said, I’ve seen a fair amount of reviewers (and internet folks) say that they dislike the ending, or that they don’t understand the ending.
I’ll just say that, as someone who has struggled with clinical depression, and who fully expects to struggle with it for the rest of my life, I liked the ending. The ending made sense to me.
Now, when you get the chance, see this movie. Throw money at this movie. Make sure that these people get to make more movies.